Earning honors while helping peers
After shuffling through a few unappealing ideas, Brandon Van Den Eykel decided to earn his Eagle Scout honors through a project that involved those his own age.
With several friends and family members involved in social work, the Frazee teen looked into helping those in foster care.
"Younger children have a much easier time getting adopted," he said he found after doing some research. "When I looked into more information relating to teenagers, I found that the situations are much different. There is next to nothing done for teenagers put into foster care, aside from the official stuff the county does."
Not only do they not get the attention the younger children do, they also have a harder time getting adopted.
"So I began thinking, what could I do to help? These are people my age, so I felt really connected," he said.
He said that many kids are placed in foster care with nothing more than the clothes they are wearing. They don't have any toiletries and maybe aren't comfortable asking for them from the strangers they are now living with. So, his project, "Codename: Starter Kits," was conceived.
"My goal with this project was to help make the transition into foster care a whole lot easier."
Each of his kits contained a fleece blanket, shampoo, body wash, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, razors, shaving gel, deodorant and more. Van Den Eykel's grandmother even participated by making laundry bags to put the supplies in. He made 20 kits, 10 for boys and 10 for girls.
A group of adult Eagle Scouts review and determine Scout projects and whether it earns the Eagle Scout honor. Van Den Eykel's project stood out to the group.
"The members (of the review board) all felt that this project was one of the more unique projects we had ever seen," committee member Mark Hagen said. "In addition, it was a project we felt should be carried forward on an ongoing basis due to the continuing needs of the children placed in foster homes by Becker County Human Services."
Serving with Hagen on the review board were Jeff Swanson, Glenn Gifford and Steve Swanson.
"I spent a lot of time debating and researching this," Van Den Eykel said of his decision to make the kits and what to put in them. "I wanted to make sure there were enough things, but at the same time, I didn't want to get too in depth. Deciding on which toiletry items to use can be a very personal decision, so I was always very conscious about what went into each of the kits."
In order to purchase the items, Van Den Eykel received $500 from the Frazee Lions Club and a bargain on fleece from Mill End Textiles in Fargo.
Van Den Eykel said his decision to help foster kids was a simple one -- "I wanted to do a service project that helped people directly."
Nearly all of the other Eagle Scout projects Van Den Eykel has either heard about or participated in have had to do with parks, wildlife, benches at a church, etc.
"Now don't get me wrong, these are fantastic projects, but I have a tendency to want to do things a little different than the norm."
Although most would agree his project is a good one, Van Den Eykel said it's unfortunate he'll never be able to hear directly from those who use the kits if they were of help or importance.
"I did, however, get a card in the mail and many, if not all, of the social workers from Becker County Human Services wrote in it. This card has become one of my favorite possessions," he said. "When I read through the card the first time, I almost had tears in my eyes. Everyone had nice things to say about me and the kits and how all of the teens who had received the kits absolutely loved them."
After just a couple weeks after the project was completed, Van Den Eykel said he was told seven of his 20 kits had already been given out. And while it's great his kits are being put to use, it's sad there is such a need in the county.
Since there is clearly a need, he said he'd like the project to continue.
"Unfortunately with school, I cannot continue this project alone. I am currently working on a website, codenamestarterkit.org, and it will soon have all sorts of information about this project. My goal is that someone, a group of people or an organization can use all of the information that I have already prepared and do a project like this."
The site will include directions for the kits, a place to donate money and a tally of kits given out.
Van Den Eykel, who is a part of Frazee Troop 690, said if it weren't for his involvement with the Boy Scouts, this project never would have come to light.
"You know, I had day-dreamed in the past about doing a project like this, but had I not been in Scouts, I would have not have done it. I wouldn't have had the motivation to do so.
"Scouting is more about leadership, learning how to be a good citizen, being empowered to make ethical and moral choices, and learning many skills that can be helpful all throughout one's life."